The return of the pieces, which include terra cotta and
bronze sculptures ranging from 100 to 2,000 years old, follows
an 18-month investigation by the museum into the enigmatic
routes they took to America.
The probe found that some of the works had missing or forged
export documents, while others had vanished decades ago from
West African collections before showing up mysteriously on the
U.S. art market.
"These objects have gaps where there shouldn't be gaps," said
Victoria Reed, the museum's curator of provenance. She said the
works had been sent back to Nigeria earlier this month.
The pieces were part of a broader collection bequeathed to the
museum last year by the late William and Bertha Teel, of
Marblehead, Massachusetts, a coastal town about 18 miles north
Museum officials said the Teels were not aware of the artifacts'
dubious origins and had acquired them in good faith from
Some of the objects raised immediate concerns, including three
terracotta pieces from Nigeria's Nok culture, a type of work
listed by the International Council of Museums as being at high
risk of having been stolen.
[to top of second column]
Another piece, a bronze figure dating to about 1914, was known to
have been in Benin City's Royal Palace in the 1970s. But that palace
was robbed in 1976, and the figure's whereabouts were next placed in
a gallery in the 1990s.
Another work known to have been in Nigeria's Oron museum in the
1970s went on to mysteriously appear on the art market decades
later, said Reed.
Last year, Reed wrote to Nigeria's National Commission for Museums
and Monuments to ask if the commission had approved the export of
the eight flagged pieces. The commission replied that it had not
done so, and the lone export document for one of the pieces was
found to have been forged, said Reed.
The Museum of Fine Arts, which has a collection of about 500,000
objects, has returned a total of 27 objects to their home countries
since the 1990s, not including the eight Nigerian works, according
to the museum.
(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Richard Chang)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.